This story was updated at 9 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020, with more information.
The Hamilton County Health Department reported the county passed 100 deaths from COVID-19 on Thursday, a grim milestone as the county closes in on seven months with the virus.
The county reported two new deaths Thursday, bringing the total to 101. The announcement comes as the spread of the virus has slowed in the region after several surges throughout the late spring and summer.
"It is with deep sadness and respect that we honor these 101 lives that have been lost," said Becky Barnes, health department administrator, in a news release. "These are not just numbers or statistics. Each one of these deaths represents a very real and painful loss to family and friends as well as to our community. Our staff working on the COVID response have developed relationships with many of these patients and their families while monitoring them during their illness."
On Tuesday, Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger extended his countywide mask mandate through Nov. 22. Local leaders and county health officials have credited the mandate with helping drive down spread of the virus in the area.
"I don't like wearing a mask, but I do know that even if I'm asymptomatic, it protects you and it protects me if you're asymptomatic," Coppinger said during the Tuesday news conference. "We know we're making a difference, and we're continuing to fight the fight."
While the mask mandate stays in effect, the county and the state of Tennessee have eased all restrictions on businesses and other large gatherings.
There have been four deaths in October so far, following two of the deadliest months for the virus in Hamilton County, August with 27 deaths and September with 22 deaths.
So far the virus has proven much more deadly for men in Hamilton County, who account for 64 of the 101 total deaths.
Another disparity appears in the deaths of Black residents, who account for 19% of the county population and 33% of the total deaths. According to the health department, 56 of the deaths were white residents. Similarly, Hispanic residents make up roughly 6% of the population and account for 10% of the local deaths.
Early in the pandemic, the virus spread rapidly in Chattanooga's most diverse but also impoverished ZIP codes where residents may not be able to physically distance themselves from sick family members.
People with underlying health conditions and the elderly are at increased risk of having worse infections or dying from the virus. While Hamilton County has experienced the deaths of two residents under 10 years old, most of the local deaths have been clustered among people 61 years old or older. So far, that age bracket accounts for 73% of the total deaths in Hamilton County. The two new deaths reported Thursday were both among residents 81 years old or older.
Contact Wyatt Massey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @news4mass.